The Perham Area Public Library was one of the 12 libraries in the Viking Library System given the opportunity to use part of a $79,885.90 grant awarded to the Douglas County Library by the Library Services and Technology Act to purchase memory loss resources.

“The state of Minnesota Office of Library Services, which is under the Department of Education, they receive federal dollars every year for library services in the state. They get to decide how the funds are disturbed,” Perham Area Librarian Susan Heusser-Ladwig said.

“The money was awarded to Alexandria but on behalf of all the libraries in Viking,” Heusser-Ladwig said.

According to Heusser-Ladwig, the Perham Area Public Library was allocated just under $5,000 of the $79,885.90 to spend on materials. The materials that were to be purchased with the grant money were to be resources and simulation materials for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which is a form of dementia, and their families.

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“Everyone was supposed to purchase their own materials based on what they could use in their community,” Heusser-Ladwig said. “Some of the money was to be used for books, some were to be used for videos and some were to be used for audiobooks. So there was a certain percentage that was to be used for kits that were designed to be checked out by families individually.”

According to Heusser-Ladwig, there are two different kinds of kits in memory loss materials. The first kind of kit was bought as a package and each has an informational DVD resource for the families, a matching game, and some dissociation questions.

The second kind of kit is the ones put together by the library. Each of these kits has some sort of a fidget, calming music or sound recordings, a puzzle, a book meant to help trigger memories, a matching game to help cognitive simulation, and board discussion questions according to Heusser-Ladwig. She said, “most of the kits have a book called “The 36 Hour Day” which is a family guide to caring for people who have Alzheimer’s disease.”

A small sampling of the memory loss materials that the Perham Area Public Library will have available for those suffering from memory loss and their families. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)
A small sampling of the memory loss materials that the Perham Area Public Library will have available for those suffering from memory loss and their families. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

According to Heusser-Ladwig, the kits all come with institutions on how it works and some general questions to ask the loved one suffering from dementia.

Heusser-Ladwig said, that all of the materials will hopefully be available for check out either the third or fourth week in October as only about three-fourth of the materials are ready to be moved onto the shelves. She said, that to help identity which materials are memory loss resources, the materials will all bear a purple label.

Heusser-Ladwig said, that books will check out for three weeks, DVD’s for one week, audiobooks for three weeks, and the puzzles, although simple, will check out for a month. “We may change once we start with one thing and people come back and say three weeks isn’t long enough. If we have people repeatedly telling us that, then we might adjust,” she said.

“It’s terribly sad and terribly sobering when people in the community are touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s horrifying, gosh it’s its own pandemic how many people are having cognitive problems caused by breaking down of the brain cells. It’s terrible so we really hope that it will fill a need and be helpful,” Heusser-Ladwig said.

Now there are resources, but what is dementia?

“I’m very excited about the library having these resources,” Dr. Ron Burd, a psychiatrist at Perham Health, said.

According to Burd, dementia is the loss and deterioration of cognitive function over time as people lose their ability to remember, weight, and comprehend things to the point where they cannot make appropriate executive decisions.

According to Burd, the deterioration of cognitive abilities is a normal part of aging and there is no cure or treatment for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“If you live long enough there’s reason to believe that everyone is going to get dementia,” Burd said. He said that dementia is likely catching up with more people as they now live longer due to fewer people now die of the diseases that use to kill most people.

“I think that there are things that we can do to make our decline into dementia more abrupt and quick, or there’s things that we can do to keep our wits sharper and our memory good until we die,” Burd said.

According to Burd, there are interventions that people can do throughout the course of their lives to help flatten the flight path of natural deterioration. “If you’re coming to me at 65 saying ‘you know I fear I’m going demented.’ You’re about 25 years away from the time you should have been making changes,” he said.

The library's new resources include print, audio, and video resources for the families of those suffering from dementia. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)
The library's new resources include print, audio, and video resources for the families of those suffering from dementia. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

Burd said that the interventions that everyone over 30 should be doing to help flatten the flight path of cognitive deterioration are: keeping healthy blood sugar, avoid letting diabetes develop, treat any diabetes that they might have, treat their hypertension, maintain a healthy weight for their height, avoid simple carbohydrates and processed carbohydrates, do regular physical exercise, and get adequate sleep.

“One of the things that accelerate the decent is sleep deprivation. Even the little bits that we think -- the kind of thing that Americans think is a source of pride, I can get by on six hours of sleep and when I have time on the weekend, I sleep eight. Well, it’s not the same as getting yourself eight hours of sleep every night and your brain keeps score,” Burd said.

According to Burd, there are also interventions that can be taken between the ages of 10 and 14, such as starting to learn a new language and playing a musical interment. He said that starting doing things to help stimulate cognitive function later in life does not hurt but it cannot replace the cognitive development built by building these skills as a teenager.

According to Burd as people’s cognitive abilities do start to deteriorate there are things that they can do. Getting a full physical and blood work when cognitive function starts to go is important to check if function is being lost to dementia or if it is being caused by something treatable, he said.

The second thing that Burd said is helpful to those who are starting to lose their cognitive function should get a health care directive in place and a durable power of attorney in place. He said consenting to go into the next stage of care sooner rather than later can be helpful.

“When people are getting to that point, you can either say that I’m having enough issues that this is a reasonable thing to do on one end. Or another end is, well I’ll go to that then I have to and just can’t do it anymore. The studies show that people who go into the next level of care early are much happier, better adjusted, and are better off overall than people who wait until they have to change. Because at that point, it’s harder to basically engage and redeveloped a healthy adaptation to that,” Burd said.

For the families of those going through dementia, the library is going to be a good resource for getting, in what is currently in an ever-evolving medical study, well-vetted information about what they should know about cognitive deterioration, according to Burd. He said that other good resources for families would be the Alzheimer's Association and the American Association of Retired Persons.